Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


14 Comments

Review: Merrell Ascend Glove

side

I’ve done a lot of shoe reviews over the past couple of years, and in so doing I’ve come to approach each new offering with the same sort of mild expectation of unspecific excellence. Being that I’m ever in search of the absolute perfect minimalist running shoe for myself, it’s kind of hard not to always put each new shoe on with the highest of hopes. In the end some shoes I’ve tried have wowed me, and some have not. But that’s not what happened at all with the Merrell Ascend Glove. Maybe it was my bad past experiences talking, I don’t know, but I gotta be honest: I kind of expected to not like this shoe.

Why? Well, because it’s not what I would normally prefer in a trail shoe. It’s cushiony (6mm of it), and it’s got a huge stack height (10.5mm) and a rock plate (“TrailProtect pad”). The sole is stiff, the upper is super thick, and the women’s shoe wasn’t offered in a wide enough width for me so I had to order my pair from the less-than-pretty-for-obvious-reasons men’s line. I was sure this would be the kind of shoe that would do nothing more than assist me in jacking up an ankle or contributing to the degradation of my already only barely-good running form. I immediately relegated the Ascend Glove to the back of my mind, alongside the NewBalance 1010 and the HOKA One-One (which I have still not tried but secretly really want to).

both2

Needless to say, I was skeptical at first. After having spent two years wearing paper-thin minimalist footwear, the Ascend Glove felt like a god-damned marshmallow. It took a little getting used to. Aside from the zero drop, this shoe looked on paper to be just like every running shoe I’d ever worn before I discovered barefoot running. If I wore this heavy (8 oz) foot coffin on the trails, how would I ever reconcile my identity as a minimalist runner?

That last sentence was kind of a joke. Sort of.

But I decided to put the question on hold once I happened to snag a pair from my favorite Merrell rep. I figured why the hell not just try ‘em, right? And anyway, at the time that this shoe arrived I had been offhandedly looking for the next really good trail shoe. I’ve been running a lot more rugged trail out here lately, the kind with steep dirt hills, sharp, rolling rubble, lots of technical stuff and at times, obvious danger. I needed a shoe with better grip that would keep me from falling on my ass all the time. I also wanted something that wouldn’t feel so much like a cleat when I had to mix roads into my run. As it turns out, the Ascend Glove may be just the answer I was looking for.

both1

My first run in these was a short, mixed-terrain run. I took them over pavement, through loose dirt trails, down steep, rocky embankments, up some sandy hills and over about a half mile of 3” drainage “gravel.” This is a pretty typical run for me these days. The first thing I noticed is that I didn’t slip as much on the steep downhills because the lugs on this shoe are pretty deep and substantial. After about 60-70 miles I have managed to visibly wear down the lugs on the balls of both shoes and on the lateral edges, but since I have been putting them through the ringer I would say this is a fair amount of wear (more on this later).

frontAside from the narrow-ish last (which is more or less Merrell’s modus operandi) that forced me to switch to the men’s version, I am impressed by the way this shoe is made. Like the men’s Trail Glove, arguably the best minimalist shoe Merrell ever made, the upper is rugged, durable and reinforced in all the right places (toe, heel, etc). I should also mention this shoe has also taken on a lot of crud, dozens of foxtails and several throws in the washing machine, so far to no loss of durability. The laces are traditional on this model, none of the lace-locking system that I know many of you loved but I didn’t particularly care for. From what I can tell, there are only small cosmetic differences between the men’s and women’s model. This is refreshing to me because in the past the women’s versions of Merrell’s best minimalist shoes have been much flimsier than the men’s, and that totally bummed me out.

Basically, the two big things I really like about this shoe:  its rather simple, straightforward and durable construct, and its specificity. Even though it’s a bigger, heavier shoe than I typically wear on roads or on easy trail, the Ascend Glove is simple and knows its job. It’s not all bells and whistles, and it’s not trying to be a do-everything, go everywhere shoe. I dig that. Even though the original Trail Glove was an excellent model, its non-specific construction was only great on mixed or easy runs. It wasn’t my best trail shoe, and it wasn’t my best road shoe either. But the Ascend Glove is a great choice for any tough terrain or a long trail run because I know it’s going to have excellent tread for the shiftier terrain, it can take a beating and the thicker sole provides more protection than many other minimalist shoe choices, without being too mushy. So, contrary to my original expectations, I have been wearing and loving the hell out of this shoe.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that this is one of the very few truly rugged trail shoes I have seen out there with a low enough profile and also absolutely zero-drop. I know some people are just fine with a 4mm or 8mm heel, but for whatever reason I just cannot hack it. I have tried. The drop is a deal-breaker for me. If you are the same way as me, then this is the shoe for you.

back

As always I know I’ll learn more about the Ascend Glove as I put more miles on it, but so far the only down sides that I have noted (and already mentioned above) are the lack of width choices and the tread wear. I think it’s safe to say that I support Merrell offering a wide-width version for all of their shoes, considering the regular lasts they make fall so far off on the narrow scale. We have all seen what happens to me when I try to wear the regular stuff they make for women! It would be nice for those of us who have strong, wide, barefoot-runner’s feet to have an option that better fits our feet, without having to hit up the men’s selections all the time.

And a moment on the tread: although my Merrell rep has told me that my amount of wear seems normal, I guess I expected this shoe to wear a bit more slowly. But after inspecting the tread wear on my other beloved Merrell shoes, and comparing the amount of erosion on each, I realized he was probably right.  So if you’re putting your shoes through the ringer like I am and will be counting on the tread to keep you safe, you’ll want to replace this shoe at around 300 miles or so. It’s odd for me to recommend this, too, considering that one of the great things about minimalist shoes is you don’t have to deal with replacing shoes for their “supportive” qualities. But if good tread is important for your runs, then the replacement factor still exists.

comparison

All in all though, guys, this is my best trail shoe now. It’s an ideal choice for men and women who are real dirt devils like me and want something that will hold up to the terrain while protecting your feet from the harsher bits, and also from the longer miles. It’s also a great shoe for anyone who loved the Trail Glove / Pace Glove, but would like to move on to something a little less minimal. If you’re on the fence I suggest you check it out, you’ll probably be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

Advertisements


11 Comments

Review: Merrell Vapor Glove

myfeet

Let me start off by saying that I really hate being the only reviewer to give a beloved new shoe model a less than stellar review. It stinks. I feel like a jerk. But I have integrity, dammit! I’m just reporting the facts, here, folks. Okay…that’s a lie – mostly everything in this blog is heresay and opinion – but hey, a fact or two does slip in ever so often.

Back to the review. I wanted to love this shoe. I really did. The Merrell Vapor Glove was fabled to be the second coming of the almighty KSO. This model was supposed to become the next new be-all, end-all of the minimalist road shoe. I was ready to love this baby for as long as it held together, or at least until Merrell made something even better to replace it.

Well, as it turns out, the first thing happened a lot sooner than expected. But let’s tell the story from the beginning.

I got my pair in the mail a couple of weeks ago. I rejoiced. I thanked my Merrell contact profusely. I put them on. They felt awesome. They looked awesome. I rejoiced even more. And then I took them out for a seven mile run, without socks.

bothfront
Here is where I’ll pause to applaud the greatest thing about this shoe: the sole. Zero drop, 5mm of flexible Vibram TC1 rubber, the only thing between you and the earth. By feel alone, this shoe is as flexible and light as my reigning favorite, the Vibram See-Ya. The Vapor Glove sole just rocks. It’s just the right thing. And then there’s the upper. It is gorgeous and colorful, and at first glance it really seems quite open, spacious. I mean, the whole shoe has this pleasant, slipper-like feel, reminiscent of what VIVOBAREFOOT usually does. My kind of shoe, right?

bottom
Well, about two miles into that run I started to feel some rubbing at my toes, from the upper crinkling in as my feet bent and flexed. At first I suspected sloppy form, since I was headed up a hill at the time. But soon I realized I’m feeling it in both feet, which is usually not a form issue for me. A mile later I stopped to take them off and wrap tissues around my chafed toes (I always have something with me that can double as toilet paper). Eventually the paper rubbed away and the toe chafing got worse, until it eventually became numb. That’s usually not a great sign. I stopped the run at 7 instead of 10 and by the time I got home I had three abrasions on my toes that needed significant wrapping every time I wore shoes again for the following week.

Figuring that the issue was probably just a combination of my soft sock feet (I wore socks all winter) and the unfortunate placement of my toes in the shoe, I waited a couple weeks and then took the Vapor Gloves out for another four-mile spin by the beach. This time I wore socks. The run was fabulous. But, I didn’t notice until I got home that I had managed to rub off part the upper, on the outside of the shoe just below the bones of my pinky toe. Where there should have been bright green mesh attached to rubber, all I could see was my black Injinji sock. What the hell.

Boo :(

Boo 😦

As I stood there in disbelief, I shifted my foot around in the shoe. At first glance there seemed to be plenty of room on the sole for my foot. There was even a quarter inch of space between my big toes and the inside edge of the sole. What gives? So then I took a few steps, and I realized that the way the last is shaped, it forces my foot to shift so that the lateral side pushes out. Result: I spent 11 miles running on the upper of my shoe. Bam.

A possible added issue: the sole is really razor-thin and doesn’t continue very far up the sides, like you’d see on most shoes. By this regard, the super- thin sole has a slight disadvantage: it’s so flexible that instead of my foot being cradled in, it is allowed to move around the shoe and land in the wrong spot.

twisty

I’ve been reviewing shoes for a few years now, but I’ve never broken one before. This is a first. And I will say that I’m super bummed about it because, as I said before, I really wanted Merrell to come out with my next big, favorite minimalist road shoe. Not many minimalist companies have really nailed the road shoe so far, at least as compared to the variety of exceptional trail offerings out there.

back
All that said, I still believe Merrell is headed in the right direction. It’s really refreshing to see them take a plunge into the world of true “barefoot-like” footwear. The Vapor Glove has just the right sole: one that feels more like a light rock-and-dirt barrier than a shoe. The design is glossy, colorful and more on-trend than most of the stuff they make. But I can’t recommend this shoe to anyone with wide feet, unless you like dropping $80 on gorgeous running shoes that might only make it 10 miles.

I’ll admit my foot is probably not exactly typical, and the Vapor Glove won’t be a fit problem for most folks with very straight, average feet. But I want to point out that a wider foot is at least somewhat typical for minimalist runners who spend all their time barefoot or in shoes that let their bones splay to their full potential. My feet have been the same width even as I’ve gained and lost weight through the years – but since I started running barefoot my feet have become even wider and longer. I hope the guys over at Merrell will think about coming out with a wide version of the Vapor Glove, or at least take this feedback on toward planning small changes to the next model.

And if so, my Hawaiian feet and I will be waiting.


2 Comments

Review: Merrell Pace Glove 2

bothOf all the shoes I have reviewed on this blog, the Merrell Pace Glove 2 has received by far the most rigorous testing, and in the least amount of time. That is, indeed, if you can call what I do “testing.” Some might consider it more like beating the hell out of a new pair of shoes, and then waxing poetic about what happened. Either way, prior to throwing them in the washing machine for proper review photos, my pair of Pace Glove 2s were “tested” out on pavement, dirt, sand, mud, run through puddles  and have been completely submerged in waist-deep streams. They have run on endless flat ground, run uphill, run downhill, run sideways, climbed on sheer rock and skidded across beds of algae. I’ve worn them to the beach, to the grocery store, to a hair appointment, to clean my dog’s poop in the backyard, to walk said dog, and yes, I’ve even worn them running.

sideviewBecause of my positive history with the original Pace Glove, I had a feeling that this second incarnation was also going to become one of my go-to trail kicks. And for the most part, it has. There are many things about the PG2 that will make it one of 2013’s best minimalist trail shoes, and a few things that might have been better off left unchanged.

This Shoe Has Some Sole

bottomtopFirst, I want to talk bits and parts. The PG2 has kept a lot of the same great features as the original, and left a few behind.  So what’s the same? First and foremost, the amazing zero-drop, 4mm Vibram sole. You know, the sole that earned this shoe the Runner’s World Best Debut award, and Shape Magazine’s Best Shoe in 2011. You may not have ever heard of such accolades, but that sort of stuff is a big deal to shoe manufacturers…probably a lot like the Motor Trend award is to car makers. But, I digress. The sole is exactly the same, except the update has just a tad bit more cushion and stack height, at 9.5mm. The original had somewhere around 5mm with the rock plate, if I remember correctly. Anyway I don’t notice a difference, so really it’s neither here nor there.

One interesting aside I have about the sole of this shoe is its amazing traction. This shoe is made for trails so naturally it’s going to do well at grabbing onto dirt and soil. But in my travels I have come across a few giant boulders that just needed to be scaled (Hey, I like views. I also like pretending I’m 8 years old), and I really didn’t expect the PG sole to be so insanely sticky. Climbing rocks in these shoes is akin to sticking suction cups onto a car window. It felt like cheating! After my first rock-playground encounter in this shoe, I decided that I would have to make a note of it in my review.

feetview

The upper of the PG2 is also made of the same breathable mesh, which is excellent for escaping heat…and also for draining rain puddles, slush or stream water, if necessary. And for those who cared, they also use the same anti-slip laces as before.

What’s the Difference

Now I’ll talk about what Merrell changed in this model. Superficially, they made the shoe look a hell of a lot cooler. They gave it a sportier look, more reminiscent of what they did with the Dash Glove (and less like a typical Merrell-brand hiking shoe). So far there are only two colorways up on the site, green/blue and gray/pink, but I’m guessing that they’ll add more as the model gains traction. They’ve also added a membrane-like rubbery material over parts of the upper. I’m not sure if there’s any practical use for this material, but either way I’ve managed to rub some of it off on the outside edge.

One of the biggest and most questionable changes in this shoe is the heel cup. Due to popular demand (my source at Merrell tells me), the elastic has been taken out of the heel cup on the Pace Glove 2, so that now it mimics that of the Men’s Trail Glove. I will admit that as I’ve started running harder trails, I’ve come to have mixed feelings about the original Pace Glove because of this very feature. The elastic heel would occasionally force my foot forward and squish my toes against the front of the shoe. I earned many a black toenail from the original Pace Glove, and as a result I wished I had ordered a half size larger. Without the elastic on the PG2, My heel doesn’t slide forward anymore, and I don’t foresee any more toenail injuries. Problem solved. However, I am going to admit that I actually do miss the elastic now because the PG2 feels looser, and somewhat less secure, than the original Pace Glove. But this feeling could also be due to the other big change: the lacing system.

The purple and gray shoe in this comparison is the Wide-Width Pace Glove that I reviewed last year.

The purple and gray shoe in this comparison is the Wide-Width Pace Glove that I reviewed last year.

Merrell does pretty well with its patented “Omni-Fit” lacing system, which is fancy talk for lacing that is integrated into the tongue and upper, to give you a more adjustable and secure fit. In the original Pace Glove and Trail Glove, the Omni-Fit parts were made of heavy-duty non-stretch nylon webbing. But on the TG2 they included some elastic. The really great thing that this addition does: it makes offering a Wide-width version of the shoe’s last (which is what I needed in the original PG) pretty much unnecessary. The really not good thing that it does: it makes the shoe never, ever, ever feel like it’s tight enough.

Elastic in the Omni-Fit.

Elastic in the Omni-Fit.

Being that I have wide feet, the added elastic inside the lacing system lends the upper a lot more give. I no longer have that lateral “crunched” feeling that I used to get with the regular-width original Pace Glove. Basic foot space is a lot less limited in the new model. However, the longer I wore the PG2, the tighter I found myself lacing them. Combine that with the new looser heel cup, and my feet are moving around inside this shoe like a hamster on a flatbed truck. Now, that’s not really a problem if I’m running on some semi-flat trails (like a normal person would do), but when faced with some of the crazy-steep, loose-dirt-and-rock descents I regularly encounter out here in the hills of San Diego, a secure shoe fit means better traction and balance for me. It may just be a preference or terrain thing, or because I tend to wear socks on trails to keep out debris, but for me this was a sticking point with the Pace Glove 2.

In Conclusion

By most every count, the new Pace Glove 2 (and men’s Trail Glove 2) is an excellent, well-made minimalist shoe, as was anticipated by us minimalist shoe nerds. Being one of those nerds, I will admit that I expect and demand more from Merrell than from any other minimalist shoe brand, because in a lot of ways I’m more emotionally invested in their success. Kind of like the teacher being harder on her own kid than on the other students in her class.

burrito

The now-archaic burrito-in-the-shoe demonstration. It’s still fun.

But really, as far as cons go, that’s really it. Merrell was smart not to change any of the stuff that made this shoe one of the best out there. The zero-drop, the great last, the excellent ground feel, durability and trail performance. The shoe is attractive, extremely well-made and even with its aforementioned drawbacks, it still outperforms every other minimalist trail shoe I have tried so far. This is true because Merrell knows feet, and also because they do an excellent job of hearing the needs of their target audience and giving them what they ask for. And what more, I dare say, could you ask for?

backs


15 Comments

Review: Merrell Women’s Dash Glove

First off, I’d like you all to give me a pat on the back for finally breaking out the old DSLR camera for my review shots. Up until now I’ve been a lazy ass and have been taking pictures of shoes with my iPhone camera. And while the iPhone is not bad for drunken bar night candids and quick snapshots of weird people at Walmart, I can do much better with the Nikon I paid $800 bucks for and therefore should really be taking out much more often. Besides it saved me about an hour of Photoshopping.

With that said, on to the review.

Fun fact: I didn’t actually have to do a review on the Merrell Dash Glove. Before I met any contacts at Merrell, I was lucky enough to win them from a giveaway on Running and Rambling‘s awesome blog (which I read pretty religiously). Soon as I learned I’d won them I decided to write a review, because up until now I have had nothing on here from Merrell, one of the biggest minimalist shoe companies out there.

Looks
The look of the Dash Glove is bar none. I’ve gotten a ton of compliments from friends, coworkers, even strangers on my pink and purple pair (titled “Ultra Marine” on their site). They look as great under a pair of jeans as they do on the roads. Lots of right-on color choices too. I almost went with the juicy orange-toned “Lychee” color instead, they looked good enough to eat. Much kudos to Merrell’s designers on the look of this shoe – they got feminine and sporty all at once, something not everyone does right.

Fit and Feel
How do they fit? Well, as most of you have heard at least 27 times, I have really wide feet. My only previous experience with Merrell’s barefoot shoes before winning the Dash Glove was of a pair of lime green Pace Gloves that I bought and nearly maimed my poor feet, from their obscenely narrow width (this was before learning that they offered a wide width version). But that’s for another post. What that experience earned me, though, was a wary fear of purchasing anything else from Merrell. So I suppose it was sort of good that I won these shoes. No monetary risk if I didn’t like them. I figured I could give them away to my friend Killeen if they didn’t fit me, because she has a much narrower foot.

So the first time I wore them, I put them on with jeans and wore them to work. At the end of the day I still wasn’t 100% sure about them. They do have a much wider sole than the Pace Gloves, but it was still narrower than I’m used to. I figured they would probably give me some major foot problems if I ever wore them on a run.

So in typical Trish Reeves fashion, I wore them on my 4-miler the next day.

And I’m glad I did, because something interesting happened to this shoe once I got running. The mesh upper started to soften up after about a half mile (probably from sweating – which I didn’t do at work the day before), and molded to my foot. I wasn’t wearing socks so it got a little swampy in there (and I did get a little blister on one big toe), but by the end of my run the Dash Glove really did earn its name. I have been pleasantly surprised.

One interesting, if contradictory thing, about the fit of the Dash Glove is that it is rather constricting to my mid-foot. I would typically find this to be a disadvantage, given that the constriction is technically a form of support, but I admit I like the help (sshhh – don’t tell the minimalist shoe gods). Doesn’t make my foot work quite as hard and keeps the tired away longer.

But it also keeps me from wanting to recommend this shoe to a newbie minimalist runner, because I believe a beginner should run in practically nothing until they get their form down (more on this below).

I’ve put about 30 miles on these babies so far, and you can see the footprint I’ve made on them in all the pictures (I prefer taking worn-in photos – you can see brand new shoes all day long on company websites). I very much like these shoes, they are quickly becoming one of my favorites.

Minimalist vs. Barefoot
The biggest thing to know about the Dash Gloves is that they’re actually the most shoe I have ever worn running since I went barefoot/minimalist two years ago. Most of the shoes I tend to reach for the most can be described as “slipper-like” or “kind of like a sock dunked in Plasti-Dip.”

Although they are definitely zero-drop and by anyone’s definition, absolutely a minimal shoe, the Dash Glove has a thicker, firmer sole than anything else in my closet. So to me they definitely fit more in the “minimalist shoe” category than the “barefoot shoe” one. Because of this, in my own (only slightly humble) opinion, a beginning minimalist runner might be better off first perfecting good form in a more lightly-soled shoe than the Dash Glove, because this shoe has just enough sole thickness to shield poor/heel striking form.

With that said, after two years of minimalist running experience, the thicker sole has been nothing but a relief to my feet. After about 6 or 7 miles, my feet typically start feeling a little beat up, especially on the roads where my forefoot hits the ground in the same place over and over again. Those extra millimeters of rubber between foot and pavement kept the beat-up feeling at bay for much longer. Last week’s 11-miler in these shoes was on the hilly streets of Boston, and the balls of my feet thanked me when I was done.

About six months ago I probably would have shunned such a statement. I would have proclaimed that if my feet can’t handle 7 miles of pavement, they didn’t need more shoe, they needed more training. But now I am starting to see that everything, like the Dash Glove, has its place and its moment.

And to me, the perfect place for the Merrell Dash Glove is the long road run, and it will be my shoe of choice at my next half marathon, coming up in the next few weeks.

My only question to Merrell is this: Since these shoes are basically the female equivalent of the men’s Road Gloves, why didn’t they just call them (Women’s) Road Gloves? The word “Dash” just doesn’t come to mind as easily. Just me…?

RELATED ARTICLES


7 Comments

The Better Way to Inspire

An approximation of how it feels to run barefoot. But nowadays I just let people figure it out for themselves.

Over the past few years barefoot running has soared in popularity, bringing along with it a slew of “barefoot shoes,” scientific studies and articles, evangelical followers and bloggers worldwide. Since I started riding the barefoot tidal wave myself a couple years ago, I’ve sorta been wondering if and when the backlash would ensue. I mean, whenever you have this much of a swing in thinking, it is inevitably followed by some backslide toward the center again, nice and neat like a pendulum.

I can’t say for sure whether the pendulum has yet reached the other end in the barefoot running world, but I think we are maybe at least starting our descent. Recently I’ve been seeing more and more articles by barefoot enthusiasts (not just nay-sayers and middle-of-the-road-ers) who are now starting to nudge into more inclusive territory when it comes to running footwear. Some ideas like going totally barefoot maybe isn’t always best, that some cushioning isn’t such a no-no in certain situations, even that heel-striking might not be so bad for everyone, are starting to wash up here and there along the shore.

In the very beginning of my barefoot running life, I listened to, read and regurgitated everything that the gurus told me. It was probably best that way back then anyhow, because without enough experience, I may have caused more harm to myself than good. But once I had a handle on the general concepts, I made allowances to some critical thinking of my own. I was able to decide things like running totally barefoot 100% of the time isnt really my style, and that I’m okay with a little cushioning when I’m freshly back from an injury. And most importantly, I’ve decided that I’m okay with it if my friends hear how wonderfully life-changing this has been for me, and then still continue heel striking in their traditional running shoes.

At first I was somewhat of an outsider for this (an outsider to the outsiders! Imagine that!). I started writing unpopular blog posts like “What You Can Learn from a Cushiony Pair of Running Shoes” and “Why Form?” Also I wasn’t always taking my shoes off in the warm spring weather and I shunned the popular Merrells for my very favorite (and most hated by the cool kid majority) Vibram Bikilas. With laces. But now, some of the more popular bloggers are finally saying the same stuff I was thinking all along. Which is good, because that means people will probably begin to follow this shift in thinking, and then I’ll get to feel like I’m on track again. Weird how that works. But I digress.

The real thing I wanted to talk about here is the fascinating irony that people will come to your way of thinking, eventually, once you stop trying to pull them along. It is just a fact of life, but we often forget it. So around this time last year I was sitting at a table across from my boss and a bunch of coworkers at Truffle Café in Atlanta, getting a bit ruffled while trying to explain why I run barefoot. One person who was all too familiar with the argument muttered to herself, “Here we go again” as I began. Thankfully the conversation ended well enough, after the boss’s daughter generously piped up, “hey wait, my best friend wears those toe shoes to run. They’re so cool!” But basically it got to be a battlefield every time someone asked me about my weird shoes. And it was only because I cared. I wanted others to hear about how awesome it was to run in lighter shoes, and I wanted everyone else to share my epiphany.

But sooner or later I became disenchanted with the whole idea of spreading the word. My friends eventually got used to my monkey shoes and stopped asking about them. I endured the occasional barefoot joke, and it was fine because I can laugh at myself. Soon enough the only people even bothering to read my blog were already converted barefooters. Even my husband got bored of the content and just started blindingly re-tweeting my posts to qualify as showing his support (which I still do appreciate). And it didn’t matter much to me, anyway. By then I’d formed a thick skin and a nice group of barefoot running friends, all across the continent, with whom to share my triumphs and failings. I was pretty content with myself and with my non-barefoot running buddies, with their Brooks Ultra-Cushion Pillow Shoes and all. I didn’t care anymore if they decided to run barefoot or not.

But then it started happening.

“So, I’ve decided to start minimalist running…got any advice on what shoes I should buy? I saw that you review some of them on your blog.”

One person asked me at a party. And then another messaged me on Facebook. And then a couple inquired as to whether I would mind taking them minimalist shoe shopping. It was like music to my ears! At last I’ve been given the invitation to impart my mid-foot-struck running knowledge onto a few people, and it is marvelous!

I guess I’m learning that it pays to care a little less about whether I’m being heard – because sometimes people learn better with sight. I’m learning that if I’m to show anyone how freeing it is to run barefoot, I should do it with my life experiences, not with fact-spewing and propaganda. As I said in my latest active.com article, a happy runner is an inspirational one.

And I’m perfectly content to inspire in silence. How about you?


4 Comments

What You Can Learn from a Pair of Cushiony Running Shoes

Let me just start this blog with the following points: I consider myself a “minimalist runner.” But, more importantly than that I am a runner, and one who practices good form. I have said this before: I am at the point in my belief system where I don’t think it’s as important to run barefoot as it is to run with good form. Some believe it may be easier to learn good form while barefoot, and there may be a lot of truth to that. However, I think the notion that you must go barefoot to do it right carries with it an air of exclusion, division from the rest of the running world. Like others before me have said, there shouldn’t be “regular runners” and “barefoot runners.” We are all people who share a love for the same activity – the only necessary difference is what’s on our feet. I have always had a little trouble with barefoot runners having to be separate. Even from the beginning, my opinion was that I would rather have a whole world of runners learning about the importance of correct form, than a few hundred people converting to barefoot and the rest of the running world shunning their extreme views and missing the whole point. I mean, why wouldn’t you want everyone to learn how to run better? Why let a few millimeters of foam stand in your way?

I would like to say that I came to these conclusions after much inner debate and deliberation, and because of running barefoot for a whole year. But no, I must admit that what taught me the most about barefoot running were:

  1. my summer-long hiatus from running due to injury
  2. my Saucony Kinvaras

Saucony Kinvaras. They're loud. They're pink. And they're not as evil as you think.

Currently, I am not running barefoot. I am not running in my Vibram Five Fingers, or even in my Merrell Pace Gloves. I am running in Saucony Kinvaras. Kinvaras have been heavily marketed as a lightweight minimalist running shoe. But really – they’re not. They have squishy-bouncy soles, zero ground feel and a 4mm heel-to-toe drop (not much, but still). So, like most runners who prefer to be barefoot or minimally shod, I sort of object to the concept of the Kinvara as a “minimalist” running shoe. With that said, I am perfectly happy running in them for the time being. Why? Well, as I was coming back from my injury I decided to take the advice of my podiatrist, and ease the muscles of my foot back into their job more slowly than barefoot running would allow. But more importantly, I am just too damn paranoid of re-injury to run barefoot right now. So yeah, I was willing to drop the $70 on a pair of shoes to ease my mind as well as my feet. And when I’m good and ready, I will go back to running barefoot and in minimal footwear, and all will be well with the world.

What I know now is that when you’re running you must take heed of your feet. You must be sure to care for them, from the inside out, because without them you cannot run at all. My time being injured has taught me to respect my feet. To respect their workload limits, and more importantly, to run more for pleasure, health and meditation than for some constant self-imposed pressure to always improve. It was getting me nowhere, anyway.

Some people have asked me why I don’t just stay away from running at all until my foot is completely ready for barefoot running again. The answer is simple: because I don’t have to run barefoot to run. This is what my Kinvaras have taught me. When I first put them on in the store I was convinced this purchase was going to be the end of my credibility as a minimalist runner. And by the way, that attachment to my credibility was the reason I’d kept wearing unsupportive shoes all summer and subsequently prolonging my injury.

But when I took my first few strides in the Kinvaras I realized that they didn’t keep me from running with my usual form, as I had been told to expect. With the exception of the squishiness that had just enough give to satisfy my bum foot, I could still avoid heel striking. I could still stand up straight, lead with my chest and land with my feet under my center of gravity. All of a sudden, barefoot’s monopoly on good form seemed like a bunch of bunk, and for a moment I felt the disappointment of a child learning that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

That moment of clarity brought on the completion of a shift I needed to make in my thinking. Finally it didn’t matter to me if I was shunned from the barefoot community for running in shoes that had more than 6 millimeters of sole, because the people who were stuck on that rule were going about it all the wrong way. They were preaching to a small, exclusive group of followers who would conform to the letter, and all who fell outside their canon need not apply. My resistance to conformity was the exact reason I fell in love with barefoot/minimalist running in the first place, yet here I was feeling compelled to conform to a group of non-conformists. So you know what? Fuck ’em. It was time to break away.

It was also time to quit worrying about stupid unnecessary things like distance, speed, pace, competition, blah blah blah. I run to run. This is my hobby. I’m not a career racer. I don’t have to run any faster or farther than my feet are willing to take me today. And I don’t have to be an ultra-marathoner lest I be named a hobby-jogger. I don’t care about any of that crap anymore. In three weeks I am going to be running in a race called the Devil’s Chase. I chose it because its 6.66 mile distance is gimmicky and fun, and because I can wear a goofy costume. And I plan to not give a shit how long it takes me to finish or if I tire and have to walk some. I’m going to put on a ridiculous outfit, run a few miles with a couple of my friends, and then I’m going to hang around Salem, Massachusetts, the center of the Halloween Universe, and I’m going to smile. If you’re looking to find me, I’ll be the one wearing bright pink marshmallow shoes and running with fantastic fucking form.

That, my dear readers, is what running is all about.